2022 Is the Year of the Citizen Developer

This past year has seen a rise in a new class of software developer, known collectively as the citizen developer. The term citizen developer is used to describe when non-programmers build applications that solve specific business needs. Citizen developers could be product managers, marketing managers, business executives, and others in an enterprise that are not in a traditional software development role.

The role of the citizen developer has been growing for many years, with 2021 seeing an exponential growth in tooling and enablement. This tooling, historically known as low-code or no-code programming, has enabled individuals with no development experience to design, create, and operate usually simplistic business applications designed for specific purposes.

Recently, improvement in these tools, including the addition of improved artificial intelligence, has allowed them to be used by citizen developers to build increasingly complex applications that can perform customer-centric, business-critical operations.

Additionally, the growth of business e-storefronts and software-driven business models has increased the value of citizen development. The more that non-traditional developers can contribute to the process of building software, the better software will be and the more it will solve customer needs and requirements.

How citizen developers can benefit a business

Traditional software development suffers because the transfer of knowledge about the business and customer needs between product managers and software developers is traditionally hampered by missed communications and expectations, often leaving what is built to be only partially aligned to what the business requires. Citizen development allows those same business leaders to actively develop and/or tune the software they require to meet their specific goals, removing the communication errors.

This increased need for citizen development—along with the improved tooling to enable it—leads me to believe that 2022 will be the year of the citizen developer. It will be the year when citizen development will finally become a normal part of the business process in most corporations.

What type of applications can citizen developers build?

Tooling improvements have made it easier for companies to build increasingly complex applications. Once left solely to traditional software development, citizen developers can build mobile applications, e-commerce storefronts, analytics applications, and other applications central to their business.

Does citizen development contribute to the shadow IT problem?

Shadow IT is the term used to describe the proliferation of business software running outside the management, control, and governance of an organization’s IT department. Typically, shadow IT is considered non-conformant software, or “Wild West” software, because it doesn’t follow the standard business rules and processes established by the IT department. Shadow IT software often leads to security issues, quality problems, customer confusion, and even legal and regulatory challenges.

Since citizen developers are not part of the IT organization, many see citizen development using low-code and no-code software systems to be contributing to the shadow IT problem.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As no-code and low-code tools mature, they are becoming increasingly enterprise-centric and are built to live and thrive in enterprise governance environments. These software tools are run by the IT organizations, not outside their influence. The tooling used for citizen development is more and more managed by traditional IT organizations. This results in business conformant applications.

Managing citizen development systems

Managing citizen development applications and tools is therefore a critical component of the IT organization’s responsibilities. There is a great article, written by Mary Branscombe for CIO, that talks about how IT organizations can better manage citizen development systems and processes.

Citizen development has extended the reach of IT organizations and allowed these organizations to maintain better control over all business systems and processes, even those that are developed outside their boundaries. The result is better acceptance, better management, and more integration between business needs and IT operation realities, resulting in overall better business processes and success.

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